No, Australia Is Not Actually an Evil Dictatorship

No, Australia Is Not Actually an Evil Dictatorship. By Van Badham.

Ron DeSantis … announced at the end of last month that Australia was “not a free country.” This was surprising news — most of all to Australians.

We have mostly spent pandemic lockdowns alternating between boredom, frustration, wine, a lot of Netflix and trying to locate our trousers before Zoom meetings. Recently, we’ve also become aware of a disturbing myth that appears to be enthusiastically fostered on the American right: Our experience of the pandemic, apparently, has been that of a violent police state. We must have been too busy taking out the bins to notice.

Last week, the myth of our enslavement propelled aspirational allies into the streets. In the United States, Poland and Britain, distinctly non-Australian protesters assembled outside Australian diplomatic missions, denouncing the country’s decline into thuggish autocracy. A #SaveAustralia hashtag trended.

If Australians on Twitter were confused about what they required saving from — the sunshine? free health care? low Covid deaths? — it was perhaps because they weren’t visiting the dark corners of the internet where the myth has taken form. There, propaganda that depicts Australia as a blasted hellscape is being generated and shared.

Confected for an American audience, it seems to be part of an international right-wing campaign to recruit those frustrated by lockdowns, unsure of vaccines and animated by appeals to personal liberty. Australians, trying to get their kids to bed before bingeing on “Ted Lasso,” have been enlisted as unwitting props in an American culture war.

For months, I and other local disinformation researchers have watched the seeds of this campaign being spread across digital platforms.

Cam Smith, a public broadcaster and independent researcher who tracks the far right, noticed videos claiming to show recent acts of brutal police violence against hapless citizens “just pinging around, devoid of context” across anti-vax and anti-lockdown channels. But the footage, Mr. Smith discovered, was re-edited recordings of incidents that took place in the country 12 months earlier, some from a provocation campaign by anti-maskers to defy restrictions and initiate confrontations with police officers.

In the Facebook groups I monitor, it’s the same thing. Right-wing American influencers with millions of followers share videos in which Australian anti-maskers stage disruptions in shops or start fights with the police. Craftily edited, the videos are made to tell stories of innocent citizens brutalized by violent state overreach.

That’s bad enough. But the malign spread of foreign influence goes beyond the internet. In July, anti-lockdown protests took place across Australia, attracting crowds in Sydney and Melbourne. Yet this was no homegrown uprising: Data analysts found the protests had been coordinated by a central group of organizers based in Germany and Britain.

These anti-lockdown protests, never attended by more than a few thousand people, are small by Australian standards. And unlike Americans, Australians are not politically inclined to demands for liberty and choice as much as we are for fairness and solidarity. (The name of the national anthem is “Advance Australia Fair.”) As Australia’s First Nations people knew and settler-colonial Australians learned on arrival, individualism is far less useful than collaboration on a continent where everything from the weather to the insects is trying to kill you, all the time.

Even as some lockdown restrictions ease, Australians continue to comply with public health orders, which even now enjoy overwhelming public support. But where lockdowns remain, far-right activists have seized a rare chance to march on empty streets. …

Even amid the global economic disruption, Australia’s wheels of free enterprise have managed to find new ways to spin, for good or ill. Free and fair elections have continued to take place. …

Australia’s lockdowns, masks and social distancing have kept total nationwide deaths from the virus under 1,500. With its slightly smaller population, Florida — over which Governor DeSantis presides — has lost 57,000 already. It’s that cold reality the propaganda, lurid and outlandish and ridiculous, seeks to banish. But it can’t.

Political correctness is developing on the right, sadly. This is an example.

It suits some of the US right to project their fears of the developing tyranny in the US onto Australia, a country they know is like theirs — but about which they otherwise don’t know enough to realize that the stories are obvious BS. The nonsense they speak about Australia is just insecurity about their own situation.

Even Tucker Carlson indulged in this nonsense, claiming Australia was under martial law and other defamatory untruths. Do your homework.